The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Believe It or Not

Posted by | May 4, 2014 | Filed under: Opinion

Look, there's a scientist, doing science!

The following was published in the Biddeford-Saco Journal Tribune Sunday edition, 5/4/2014.

I am not a scientist, but working at the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, a coastal science research station, I get to meet many scientists from Maine and away. While it’s hard to understand them sometimes, they are all very decent [and underpaid] people. And they are all as astounded as I am that, as a recent Harris poll reveals, more than half the country does not believe them when they say climate change is real, that it is happening, and that it is man-made.

I’ve heard it said that science “is the body of knowledge that we can all agree on.” Or at least, it's what the vast majority of us can agree on. When did "vast majority" become less than 50%? Sure, there will always be people who don’t trust anything but their own eyes, but the rest of us have to, at some point, make a leap of faith and trust science even if we don’t understand it, right? And we’re better off when we do: without science, we wouldn’t have electricity in our homes, cars to drive, TV to watch, or even drinking water.

This is the country that put men on the Moon. Our scientists beat back polio, split the atom, discovered DNA, and invented the Internet. Why has a certain branch of science lately become a four-letter word to some folks? If I took my six-year-old to 100 doctors and 98 said “he’s got scarlet fever,” it might be comforting to hear two doctors say “your son is fine,” but you can bet I’d still start him on antibiotics. Yet when 98% of “earth doctors” (climate scientists) say the planet is ailing, many people just turn their heads and scoff.

What makes us believe what we believe? It’s a deep question that Ancient Greek philosophers, medieval mystics, French salon-goers, and millions of struggling college students have all attempted to answer. I won’t get into that this week, though it’s a favorite subject of mine. Instead, I’ll merely offer up some “natural resources” I’ve personally found enlightening, entertaining, and even convincing. Maybe you will too.

Realclimate.org has the nitty-gritty and technical graphs, but it helps to be a scientist to understand it. For the rest of us, the website Skeptical Science dispels myths and acknowledges overreaches. If you’re into the “Buy Local” thing, this past February’s Sunrise Guide of Maine offers a good summary of the “known knowns” of climate change.

If you take your info aurally, This American Life has a captivating and heart-searching radio show on global warming called “Hot in My Backyard.” If you enjoy post-apocalyptic jaunts like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” or the 1983 TV movie “The Day After,” I highly recommend Helen Simpson’s short story “Diary of an Interesting Year” in the December 21, 2009, New Yorker.

For my requisite dose of disaster from the real world, I stay away from the most alarmist predictions and instead read about current events. Meteorologically, weather historian Christopher C. Burt tracks increasingly frequent weather extremes. Politically, Ryan Lizza’s depressing chronicle of the collapse of the Senate’s climate bill in the October 11, 2010, New Yorker is a must-read. Financially, Littlemore and Hoggan’s “Climate Cover-Up” uncovers who stands to make the most money from the climate “controversy.” (Spoiler alert: it’s not the scientists.)

If you’re disheartened, Paul Kingsnorth’s irresponsible nihilism from England won’t help you. Watch the documentary “If a Tree Falls” instead to see what happens when activists abandon all hope. And then watch “Chasing Ice” to see what happens when someone refuses to give up.

If you’re skeptical but open-minded, I urge you to explore global temperature data alongside Berkeley’s Dr. Richard Muller.

And if you’re skeptical but close-minded? Well, it’s a free country, and you’re entitled to your own opinion.

Just not your own facts. Those belong to science.

 

Nik Charov is president of Laudholm Trust, the nonprofit partner of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells, Maine. His Sunday column, “Between Two Worlds,” ventures forth from the intersection of art and science, past and future, print and electronic. More at wellsreserve.org/twoworlds.

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